Shady San Salvador Foreign Tax Process

Avianca A319 Bogota to El Salvador
Avianca A319 Bogota to El Salvador

During my return to the United States last week after a short stay in Panama, I had a stopover in San Salvador, El Salvador. There is a lot to write about my short stay Central America, but I wanted to focus this post on the foreign “impuesto” or tax charged at airport immigration. I understand countries impose taxes for many reasons, but this seemed especially shady.

I arrived in San Salvador just before 7pm local time. The first thing that struck me as odd was all of the passengers deplaned at what appeared to be a domestic gate, not an international gate which usually would have led directly to a sanitized immigration area. I walked past gates with destinations such as Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Colombia. Plenty of  restaurants and stores lined the terminal. How did I get to see all of this? Because immigration was near gate 6, while my plane parked near the 20 gates.

The walk to immigration was approximately 15 minutes. After arriving at gate 6, I made a left and went downstairs. There were two separate queues forming. Before I could decide the line I wanted to enter, an agent asked me the following question: “where are you from”? I said, “The United States” and was told to go left.

The wait was more than 30 minutes before I finally reached the front, but at least I was at the front, right? At that moment, a female agent approached and whispered, “Go to the far left to pay “impuesto”. I did not know what it meant, so I asked her to say it in English. She calmly whispered that all foreigners have to pay a tax before being allowed into El Salvador. This upset me because we waited in the immigration line to then be told to go stand in the tax line.

I made my way over to CC2 (there were three of these booths) and the female agent requested $12 USD. I was going to pay the tax, but I had to ask why only the foreigners were being charged. Without skipping a beat, a male agent said so all foreigners can experience the beauty of San Salvador. Um, Ok. As I walked away, he shouted, “You will have to pay another $12 when you leave, have a good trip”! Such a welcoming country.

Maybe I am venting just to vent, but I felt it a bit unorthodox to be released directly into the terminal from an international flight. Additionally, the entire immigration process was inefficient. Have a separate area, prior to immigration, where foreigners can pay the “impuesto” without wasting time. Lastly, I did not have to pay the tax when I left the country because I kept my receipt from the previous day.

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